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Guide to General Health: Myths, Facts & Current Medicine

Modern medicine can be complicated, and it can be hard to distinguish pseudoscience from legitimate medical practices. (Learn More)
Some people are incorrectly under the assumption that doctors are intentionally hiding cures or that websites touting treatments doctors don’t talk about must have the real answer. Put simply, this is not the case. If you are skeptical of your doctor’s opinions, consult another doctor, not a poorly sourced website. (Learn More)

Don’t avoid going to the doctor if you feel sick. A severe cold, serious fever symptoms, aches and pains, and much more can be signs of a serious medical issue that might get worse if left untreated.

A good rule of thumb is that if something feels off about your body, you should probably see a doctor. You definitely should if it lasts more than a few days or seems serious. (Learn More)

One of the most worrying trends of doctor mistrust is the anti-vax movement. While vaccines are not totally without risk, the risks are largely manageable and have nothing to do with autism. Some vaccines should not be given to people who are pregnant or have weakened immune systems, but trained doctors will be aware of these issues. (Learn More)

Some adults are reluctant to get vaccinated, or they may not realize they are missing recommended immunizations. In some cases, they should be getting boosters for vaccines they already received. (Learn More)

There tends to be better awareness of the vaccines children should be getting since many public schools require them.(Learn More)

Modern Medicine

Modern medicine is a complicated and quickly evolving field. At the same time, misinformation and pseudoscience are often competing for the same attention legitimately owed to modern science, leaving many unsure of what sources to trust.

At best, believing something incorrect about the field of medicine may foster science illiteracy. At worst, believing the wrong thing about medicine may endanger yourself, your child, and those around you.

Dispelling Some Myths

nurse writing notes

There are a few common myths that can damage your science literacy and potentially lead to serious problems if believing them causes you to avoid doctors or turn to pseudoscientific medicine.

  • Myth: Doctors are in a conspiracy to hide cures and treatments from you. Doctors are not hiding cures from you. If they were actually in a conspiracy to do so, this secret would quickly be outed.
    If a doctor is not recommending a cure you heard about, ask them about it. It likely is dangerously understudied, or evidence points to its lack of effectiveness.
  • Myth: Evidence is not important if the person making claims seems legitimate. There are entire industries built around selling “miracle cures,” sold either by scammers or people who mean well but are science illiterate. In both cases, these people profit by seeming confident, intelligent, and to have your best interest at heart.
    If you are curious about a miracle cure or some treatment touted online, research it through legitimate medical journals and other solid sources. If you are unsure how to do so, talk to your doctor to get a professional’s opinions on the product.
  • Myth: I can treat myself if I am confident I know how to treat my illness. If you are seriously ill, you should always go to the doctor. When prescribed medication, you should always get that medication from a legitimate source.
    It is very easy to misdiagnose yourself, especially if you have no medical training. Furthermore, taking drugs you only think you need, especially when purchased from online sources that have little incentive to regulate the quality of their drugs, can have serious medical (and legal) repercussions.

When to Go to the Doctor

One of the biggest things that can put your health at risk is failing to see a doctor at the right time. Catching an illness or other problem early can help to solve it significantly more easily than if you wait. In some cases, it may even be dangerous to wait to see a doctor.

The following are a few signs that indicate you should see a doctor sooner rather than later:

  • You have a persistent, high fever.
  • You have a severe, persisting cold.
  • You suddenly lose weight with no explanation.
  • You are short of breath.
  • You experience severe chest, abdominal, or pelvic pain.
  • Your bowel movements or urination patterns change with no explanation.
  • You are seeing bright flashes in your vision.
  • You experience confusion or mood changes.
  • You show symptoms of a concussion.
  • You develop unexpected symptoms after taking a new medicine or after a medical procedure.

All of the above can be signs that something is seriously wrong. Even if your issue turns out to be mild, you should never risk not getting a serious condition diagnosed. Let your doctor be the one to tell you whether you’re in danger or not.

These are not the only symptoms that warrant a doctor’s visit. Broadly speaking, if you have a persistent condition for more than a few days, you should see a doctor about it.

Even if things are not serious, there is little reason not to get looked at and have a medical problem assessed. Even small medical problems can wear on the body if untreated for years.

Annual Physician Visits

Interestingly, there is some evidence suggesting that if you’re healthy, the traditionally suggested annual physical may not be necessary. It largely depends on your risk factors, with those who are overweight, on certain medications, or in otherwise poor health probably benefitting from an annual physical.

If you’re over 30, most people could do well getting a physical every other year. If you’re under 30, you can probably get a physical two to three years. Once you reach age 50, consider an annual physical even if you are in good health.

People over 50 are recommended to get colonoscopies every 10 years. If you have a family history of colon problems, such as cancer, you should get colonoscopies more frequently.

Women with uteruses should get a Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer starting at age 21 if they are sexually active. Once you turn 40, a mammogram is also suggested and should be repeated at least every other year.

The above guidelines assume a generally healthy person. If you are in poor health or otherwise have an increased risk for any condition, discuss checkup frequency with your doctor.

Vaccines

Vaccines, also called immunizations, expose the body to a small amount of bacteria or disease, which it can then use to “learn” how to fight those if ever fully exposed. Vaccines can totally protect you from some diseases, or they may cause you to get less seriously ill if you are infected.

Vaccines can save lives, especially the lives of children and the elderly.

There is a particularly dangerous myth that vaccines are somehow very dangerous or cause autism. Simply put, this isn’t true.

Vaccines are only dangerous in very specific situations, discussed below. The CDC notes that most adverse reactions to vaccines are very mild, and things like severe allergic reactions are rare, with the staff administering the vaccine almost always immediately prepared to deal with such a reaction.

People with weakened immune systems should not receive certain types of vaccines. Some vaccines are called live virus vaccines, meaning they use a weakened form of a virus to help teach your body to resist the full form. If your immune system is weak, these vaccines can be dangerous as they may make you sick.

These same vaccines can harm fetuses. For this reason, pregnant women should not generally receive live virus vaccinations. If you plan on becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about vaccinations, as there are several you should ideally get before getting pregnant to best protect the baby. If you’re already pregnant, talk to your doctor, as some vaccines are perfectly safe to receive while pregnant and may help to protect you and your child.

man getting a vaccination shot

Adult Recommendations

The CDC has published a chart of recommended vaccinations and the age ranges during which adults should receive those vaccinations. In addition, the chart notes several vaccines they recommend you get if you otherwise are at risk for the associated conditions.

The following are the vaccines most adults, barring certain edge cases, should receive and at what time intervals:

  • Influenza inactivated (IIV), influenza recombinant (RIV), or influenza live attenuated (LAIV): annually
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap or Td): once and then a booster shot every 10 years
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR): one or two doses depending on indication (if born in 1957 or later)
  • Varicella (VAR): two doses if born in 1980 or later
  • Zoster recombinant (RZV): two doses for those ages 50 and older
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): variances according to sex. Men should receive two to three doses up to age 21; women should receive two to three doses up to age 26. This discrepancy has to do with differing risk factors between sexes.
  • Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13): one dose for those over the age of 65
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPSV23): one dose for those over the age of 65

Talk to your doctor about your particular needs, as some vaccines are only necessary for those at risk, or they may be recommended at different ages for those at increased risk. Likewise, some people will need to avoid certain vaccines altogether.

Vaccine Recommendations for Children and Teenagers

Often, immunization scheduling for minors is better understood. Many public schools require that students have recommended vaccinations, making most parents aware of what’s required.

Many resources are available to see what immunizations your child might need soon. You should also talk to your doctor about immunizations. Certain vaccines like the hepatitis B vaccine and meningococcal B vaccine may require your doctor’s discretion in how (and sometimes even if) they are administered.

It is important to remember through all of this that whatever minor risks are associated with vaccines, trained doctors universally agree there is a net gain in safety and health from vaccinating children. Failing to vaccinate your children could lead to them catching deadly illnesses that are already rising in prevalence due to the anti-vaccination movements in the U.S.

General Health Tips

It’s important to attend regular doctor visits and get all needed vaccinations to maintain good health. In addition, the following can promote overall health:

  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals. Avoid processed, high-sugar foods.
  • Get regular exercise. Aim for 30 minutes daily.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and rising at the same times daily. Sleep is essential to overall health.
  • Build a social support network. Isolation can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Socialization extends life and promotes health.

References

10 Signs You Should Go See the Doctor. Houston Methodist.

The End of the 15–20 Minute Primary Care Visit. (April 2015). Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Should You Get an Annual Physical? (October 2013). Duke Health.

Immunization Schedule. (October 2018). The Nemours Foundation.

Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule for Ages 19 Years or Older, United States, 2019. (February 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Too Sick to Work? WebMD.

Vaccines (Immunizations) – Overview. (June 3, 2019). MedlinePlus.

Vaccination During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association.

Making the Vaccine Decision. (March 18, 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Association Between Vaccine Refusal and Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States. (March 15, 2016). JAMA.